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The Environment Diet

For years people have been talking about diets. Atkins. Keto. Intermittent fasting. LCHF. LFHC. LMFAO. Etc. Etc.

Recently people have also started to also talk about information diets. “Reading Twitter or BuzzFeed all day feels bad”, they say. Read a long novel. Spend more time outdoors. With real people. Get a life.

Feeding your mind and body right is important. But changing behaviors is a bitch. You’re doing whatever you’re doing in response to a feedback loop. We make the mistake of assuming that willpower alone will break the chain. It won’t. Mood (or willpower) is very transient. Unless you crack your own algorithm, you’ll fall right back into old habits once it fades.

The needle mover for really changing your life is your environment. Living in the wrong city can drastically increase your odds of developing diabetes. People surrounded by runners start running themselves. The key to getting whatever you want (becoming happier, becoming smarter, quitting smoking, working more, working less, etc) is identifying an environment that has those virtues and immersing yourself in it. But how? “Environment” is just code for a collection of other people, places or things that you experience without applying continuous effort.

For example: if you don’t want to eat junk food, remove it from your home. Live far away from a store that procures it. If you want to become more productive, seek out the most productive people you know. Find reasons to be around them “accidentally”. Go work with them! If you can’t, find a hobby you share with them. Universities are the prime example of spatial environments, often morphing student personalities as a byproduct of their campus.

Like a company amortizing a fixed cost over time, you want to “spend” on infrastructure that has a high upfront investment and reap rewards in the years to come by when it provides “willpower-free habits”.

But I can’t. What if you can’t control your food pantry? Or pay for a good university? Or come to Silicon Valley? What if you can’t change your physical environment and invest in good infrastructure? Good news: you can almost always change your digital environment. Want to eat healthier? Join the LoseIt subreddit. It’s insanely active. It provides fantastic emotional support. Want to learn more? Flood your YouTube feed by subscribing to channels with lectures [1]. None of this is as effective as physical environment changes, but it’s a pretty darn good start.

I am a child of the Internet. I grew up in Jerusalem. But I immersed myself in Silicon Valley through the Internet. I didn’t go to college. I started a company and sold it to Apple when I was 23. And it all started from reading Hacker News.

Start optimizing the bits in your life and the atoms will follow. I’m happy to help you if you’re working on a project and need support. Email me at d@dcgross.com.

P.S. This is one aspect of the Time Well Spent phenomena that is wrong. Taking a break from Twitter is fine when the alternative is a breezy walk through Palo Alto. When you’re a buried in a random corner of the world with no comparable peers, Twitter is amazing. Spend more time on it, not less.

[1] I wish there was a new IRC I could point to where you could find other interesting people to talk to based on very specific niches.